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Can anyone beat California Chrome today?

Wicked Strong
Wicked Strong
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Patience will play a big part in winning today’s Belmont Stakes, and many a race has been lost when a jockey moves to early, particularly at the top of the stretch. A prime example is Calvin Borel who, unfamiliar with the huge sweeping turns at Belmont Park thought the finish lone was closer than it actually was and “took off too early” on Mine That Bird during the 2009 race. Although the pair looked like sure winners in the midstretch, they ended up fading to third.

While most of the world is hoping that California Chrome will prevail today in becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner in history, the unexpected is always to be expected during the big race. Afterall, how many people expected 70-1 shot Sarava to win over War Emblem (who ended up 8th after stumbling at the gate and being bumped around) in 2000. To this day, Sarava holds the record for the longest odds of any Belmont Stakes winner.

While Commanding Curve (post position 4), Ride On Curlin (post position 5) and General a Rod (post 10) are the only horses besides California Chrome to compete in all three Triple Crown events this year, there is still a lot of skepticism as to whether either can prevail this time out. For one thing, “Curve” who closed well to take second place in the Kentucky Derby (at odds of 37-1) will find that late closers rarely have a chance to come from behind and win on the 1-1/2 mile track unless there is a strong pace to set them up for a late run. Yet, despite this, many believe that deep closer Wicked Strong (4th in the Derby) has a good chance to make it to the top three finishers today following his brilliant 5-furlong workout last Sunday. In the meantime, although Ride on Curlin has the pedigree for the distance (Curlin out of a Storm Cat mare), he has only won 2 out of 11 races this year, and remains winless past 6 furlongs. On the positive side, he was the closest of any horse to California Chrome at the wire this year, coming in just 1-1/2 lengths behind him to finish second in the Preakness. Lastly, General a Rod remains in doubt after failing to be in contention during either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, and while Rose Napravnik is expected to set the pace aboard him today, it is most likely he will end up fading in the top of the stretch unless early fractions aren’t enough to tax him after running hard.

As far as the rest of the field: Medal Count, who will break inside Chrome from the No. 1 post position “should have been a lot closer to Chrome in the Derby, had he not been shuffled back early, then steadied at the 8th pole.” As a son of top distance sire Dynaform, Medal Count should have the stamina to go the distance today, and is favored by several professional handicappers to hold on for second. Another hose favored to be in the top three is the gutsy New York-bred Samraat (position 7), who has never run a bad race, although it still remains to be seen if he wants to run more than 1-1/8 miles. On the other hand, few see any chance at all for Matterhorn (post position 3) who is 0-3, beaten by a combined 34 lengths, and doubt that Todd Pletcher would have even entered him if Danza Intense Holiday or Constitution hadn’t been injured. It is also hard to understand why trainer Bill Mott has decided to enter Matuszak (post 6) in such a demanding race when the colt (1-8) has lost his last 7 races in a row, has never been in a Grade 1 Stakes before, and “wasn’t even close in two Grade 2 attempts.”

Again, while it is hard to understand why Materhorn is in the race, Pletcher’s Commissioner (post 8) has the breeding to take the third jewel in racing’s Triple Crown, if California doesn’t make it. The son of 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy and grandson of 1997 Belmont champ Touch of Gold, Commissioner should take well to the 12 furlong test, although he is currently 0-4 in graded stakes. It is also hard to rate Peter Pan winner Tonalist (post position 11), who took the race in the slop, but remains 1-3 on fast dry tracks.